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Chandra's Blog


Entries in Christmas cards (4)


12 Days of Christmas (Cards) Day 2 -- 2001

Announcing this year's miracle -- 2001

2001 -- I have written plenty on our firstborn, Hayden, and how his unexpected arrival and the medical hoopla, diagnosis and uncertainty colored so much of that time. But we weren't alone in reeling when the holidays rolled around, December of 2001. I feel compelled to write about that almost every anniversary. 

At the time this photo was taken, we were feeling pretty grateful to have him home at last, to have his first surgeries behind us, to have avoided others, to have finally ditched the feeding tube over Thanksgiving, and to be feeling like we might even be finding our parenting groove. 

I remember the certainty that the worst case scenarios some doctors predicted for Hayden would not come true, and knowing this tiny person in a way I never expected to, and knowing him to be a fighter, someone special. So many people, both back then, and later, have remarked on Hayden's 'old soul'. You can see it even here in his eyes.

I remember also a sense of optimism that our larger world would recover from what had happened the previous September, and we were all forging new connections, finding strength we didn't know we had, and appreciating the small things.

It was certainly true at our house that year. 

* *** *


12 Days of Christmas (Cards) Day 1

As my favorite holiday, I take Christmas very seriously. I have written odes to my favorite books of the season as well as my favorite songs.

And every year I try to tone it down a little more, so that I don't miss the magic in the moment. The first and most obvious cut to go should be cards. It's not like the old days--we have social media to keep us connected, for better and for worse, throughout the year. So why do I keep creating, sending and cherishing the dying artifact of the annual holiday card, preferably with photo, with or without letter? I wrote this post about Christmas cards a few years ago. But I find I cannot let them go, and I keep circling back to the idea that the series of cards tells the story of a family in flip-book time lapse style.

My mom saved every Christmas card our family ever received--she actually made whole albums each year of our received cards, and sent out over 500 of our own every year. (In fact, if your family was tight with ours in the 70s-90s, and you want a good archive of cards, come see what didn't get destroyed in the great fire of '91.) I can still picture my mom dutifully inscribing and hand-addressing and calling out commentary to my dad--"Did we get one from the Fraziers last year? What about so-and-so at the office?"--over the second half of every Thanksgiving weekend. 

Whenever I try to scale back Christmas prep and stop myself from making a card, I imagine our growing collection of annual cards that tell the story of our own little family over the years. I'm scared to miss one year in part because what might that gap say about our family narrative? For example, though 2011 was pretty shitty and I almost didn't care to capture it , still we did a card, if only to say, we're still here. Still standing. I don't want my kids to look at the display of our own cards and see the space, and notice what's missing. Maybe that is how all traditions become entrenched?  

Regardless, I thought as we head into the 12 days of Christmas countdown for this year, it would be fun to go through our cards over the last 12 (13) years.

Christmas 2000


Our first Christmas card was handmade. Not coincidentally, this was also our first and last holiday without kids underfoot. We had recently moved from Breckenridge to the town where we live now, and in a vain attempt to save my parents' marriage, had just started renting the house my father had bought for himself in anticipation of moving out. I was starting my own event planning company, and J was working for a venture capital firm, and we rattled around in too many rooms, in a house with historically bad ju-ju, with one dog and one cat, and tried to find our stride in this new chapter.

Back then, I had endless hours to handtie raffia knots on vellum overlays, and I wanted our first cards to be special, reminiscent of our wedding program, which also involved a lot of raffia, vellum, handmade paper and muslin. I was really into raffia and vellum. 


I love this photo, even though you can't see it very well under the vellum here, it had a little lift-the-flap feature. Our expressions, that rise in J's chest, as we exit the church on our wedding day earlier that year, look very much like we've sucked in a quick breath before diving into the unknown. In fact, seconds before this was snapped, I remember J leaned down and whispered in my ear, "Here we go!" 

The youth in this picture strikes me, of course. J looks like he is about 12--the kids can't believe the CURLS he had. But I also think with the gift of hindsight about all the things we didn't know were coming. Good and bad. When I see this picture, all I can see is radiating optimism, everything unfurling in front of us. I love this young couple, in all their breathless hopefulness. 

2000, the new millenium--the first and only year when we would simply be Mr and Mrs. Hoffman. 


Favorites on Friday-Letting Go

Everyone has a favorite holiday--mine is Christmas. I wrote an ode to the ritual of Christmas last year, on the importance of making the magic for my own family as my parents made it for us. This year, I want to honor the opportunity that this time brings for letting go. Christmas in America has come to mean a time of excess--excessive splurging and gorging and maxxing out and doing it all. I recently overheard my uncle ask my mom how she was doing with holiday prep and she said, "Frantic!" and he said that he believed that was an honorable celebration of Christmas--can you imagine how frantic poor Mary felt having to travel so close to her due date, to be taxed, and then go into labor and have to give birth in a barn? 

But I don't want to be frantic, and I don't want to scramble to do all the things that will make the magic so that I risk losing some of what I am really craving: peace, and time with people I love. 

It's easy to get comparative at Christmas. My kids complain that we don't decorate our yard with inflatable snow globes or hang icicle lights from our eaves. I use the excuse that we live far off the street to get out of the snow globe horror, and that our eaves are two precarious stories up--do they not remember how many times Daddy dropped the F-bomb as we maneuevered the ancient, creaky extension ladder up to the roof so he could teeter up there and spray/silicone the hole where the wasps were coming in last month?!

It is also easy to compare this Christmas to ones that came before--we're not going to the Caribbean (because of hockey and an adolescent Sampson who cannot be left for two weeks) and I worry, when the rest of the family leaves, will they be sad? And what about presents? Did we buy enough WOW gifts? Enough surprises and treasures and presents? Are there too many useful items like clothes and toothbrushes and new boxer shorts?

I ordered my Christmas cards early, but with this photo as my frontrunner, you might wonder why most of them are still sitting in the box, half-addressed? It's far from perfect, but it captures the essence of this year pretty well:


CHRISTMAS CARD 2011And though I managed to get three chocolates into each of the advent stockings that hang in the garland up the stairs, in early December I was crushing to get my second novel off to my agent and didn't put in slips of paper with carefully thought-out, festive directives of past years:

do a good deed for someone

set up the LGB train

go for a night drive and look at Christmas lights

watch the Grinch

bake Christmas cookies for the classrooms

go to the Tableaux

learn a Christmas song on the piano

help Mom stamp the Christmas cards

read Jan Brett's "Christmas Trolls"

go on a date with Mom/Dad to buy presents for siblings

While we are managing to do most of these things, I worry that it is not with anticipation and mindfulness, with the ritual I had hoped. The Tableaux were a disaster--Max had binged on three (five?) donuts at our three morning hockey games and was a full-on grouchy Scrooge, despite the fact that his beloved Harper was playing the part of the baby Lord. Piper upon spying her best friend in the processional, had a screeching tantrum about not being able to sit with Ellery--the accoustics in the Cathedral are really something.

We did manage to bake the cookies for their classroom Christmas parties, but they look more Cake Wreck than blog-worthy and I kept reminding myself that it is the PROCESS, not the PRODUCT.


One Piper piping...

the product 

I do these instead of individual classroom gifts because I maintain that there is nothing I want to buy that I can afford sixty of as classmate gifts, and there is nothing I want to receive that someone else bought sixty of, (see my post on plasti-Christmas-crap)

I worry my kids are a little let-down by this--that when everyone else is handing out Santa erasers and foam picture frames from Oriental Trading Company, they have a tray of cookies to share, but they did report that our less-than-beautiful cookies were a huge hit and brought home nothing but crumbs, much to J's chagrin. 



I am committed to letting go this year. Everything will not be perfect. The majority of the hundreds of items the kids have initialed in the toy catalogs will go unpurchased.

(We have often said it would be easier and save ink if they just initial the handful of items they don't want.)

But there are presents under the tree, puzzles and books and new hockey equipment and Legos and Beyblades and snowpants and handsewn Ugli dolls and dollhouse accessories and clothes and (shh! an iPad2) and I hope that by the time Christmas comes, I will have made peace with all the things I didn't do or buy or finish... 

Yesterday, my sister and Harper and Quinn were here to bake cookies, address cards and for me to work on sewing Harper's quilt. Instead, I lay down on the couch with the baby on my chest so my sister could stuff her cards. Instead of baking cookies, Piper and Quinn played with the wooden nativity and rescued the baby Lord from Sampson's jaws, peppered with multiple live re-enactments of the Christmas story.  It is easy to let go when you see that there is magic happening, even if it is not the one you scripted.

Piper and Quinn play Mary and Baby



Favorites on Fridays--Christmas Cards

I was words away from completing an epic post on the importance of cards, on why I make them, even in an age where Facebook and iPhone apps and the potential constant connection might make them more marginalized or even... obsolete. I scanned and uploaded each holiday card I have made for the last ten years, taking us from hopeful newlyweds clutching hands and taking a deep breath as we step off the Cathedral stairs, through the arrival of each of our children and other milestones in our lives together. I retyped the text from my one attempt at an update letter, and editorialized the story behind each photo....


One card away from 2010, everything crashed and I lost it all. 1500 words and 10 carefully formatted photos. I have been working on this for two hours on Christmas night, while my children cannibalize our gingerbread house and cruise from one new toy to another. They're asking me to go on our promised "put on pajamas and drive around listening to Christmas carols until we have found 100 Christmas houses" adventure.

I don't have it in me to tell it all again. It was a lovely journey for me down the nostalgia of those years, the story behind the summaries and the snapshots. Maybe it was too personal for the internet at large, maybe I would have hurt someone's feelings, if they see a card and didn't get one. (I can assure you, nobody is ever purposefully cut from our list--it's all a consequence of poor secretarial skills and never entering addresses in a master database.) Maybe that post just wasn't meant to be. Or maybe I'll do it next year...


Regardless, here is this year's card. Thank you to everyone, my subscribers, my Facebook friends, who follow along here.